Pregnant woman (181334)
Pregnant woman Credit: Pixabay

The 32BJ Health Fund launched a new program this month to help improve the quality and safety of maternity care for is union members.

The Better Births campaign’s includes goals to educate working people in New York and New Jersey about their options for high quality labor and delivery care and transform how health plans and hospitals prioritize services for mothers and women of color.

The health fund, a collaboration between labor and management, looks to make sure that the doormen and women, office cleaners, security guards and other property service workers in New York and 11 other states on the East Coast receive quality health care.

“The goal is to provide respectful and safe care for 32BJ Health Fund members when they have a baby,” said Health Fund Director Sara Rothstein. “Many of our members are women of color. Statistically, Black and Latinx women are at increased risk of harm. The Fund is committed to fighting the racial disparities in maternal care and to ensuring that women can give birth safely.”

According to the 32BJ Health Fund, childbirth is the No. 1 reason for planned hospitalization for its members. Of the close to 1300 births covered annually by the Health Fund, most are in New York and New Jersey. In 2018 alone, the Fund spent almost $23 million on costs related to those births. When examining its labor and delivery-related claims data, the fund saw high incidences of severe morbidity and mortality and an excessive rate of episiotomies (a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina during childbirth to help aid difficult deliveries and prevent tissue ruptures).

“Making sure that our members are given the care they need as they begin or grow their families is a key part of our efforts to make sure our members are able to sustain their families and thrive,” stated 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg. “This effort from the Funds is an important part of our relentless push to get our members the kind of health care all workers should have.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50,000 American women suffer injuries while giving birth each year. Maternal death rates in the United States are one of the highest among developmental nations and continue to rise. The combination of excess C-section use, inappropriate early elective deliveries and lack of adherence to safety measures have lead to complications for mothers and their newborns.

“The Fund’s focus on respectful and safe care sets a critical goal for families in a health care system whose outcomes are less than they should be,” stated Dr. Patricia Burkhardt, administrator of the NYS Association of Licensed Midwives. “When a payer changes the game plan to emphasize quality care rather than only cost, they create a new and more appropriate model, one that all payers should consider and emulate.”

As part of the launch, the Fund will send a request for information to hospitals in Northern New Jersey, New York City, Long Island and Westchester inviting them to apply to the program. The Fund will also evaluate responses and develop a high value maternity network and launch a member education program to help 32BJ members decide where to give birth.

Rothstein said that she hopes the fund will improve the health conditions of its members.

“Our No. 1 priority is ensuring the best care and best outcomes for mothers and babies,” Rothstein said. “This has the added benefit of being cost saving for the Fund as well, when we aren’t paying for preventable complications related to childbirth. It’s a win-win situation.”